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Case 39 is a 2009 American supernatural psychological horror film directed by Christian Alvart, and starring Renée Zellweger, Jodelle Ferland, Bradley Cooper and Ian McShane.

Case 39
Case 39 poster.jpg
Theatrical film poster
Directed byChristian Alvart
Produced byLisa Bruce
Steve Golin
Alix Madigan
Kevin Misher
Written byRay Wright
StarringRenée Zellweger
Jodelle Ferland
Ian McShane
Bradley Cooper
Music byMichl Britsch
CinematographyHagen Bodanski
Edited byMark Goldblatt
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • August 13, 2009 (2009-08-13) (New Zealand)
  • October 1, 2010 (2010-10-01) (United States)
Running time
109 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$26 million[1]
Box office$28.2 million[2]


Emily Jenkins is a social worker living in Oregon, who is assigned to investigate the family of Lillith Sullivan, a troubled ten-year-old whose school grades have declined while an emotional rift with her parents, Edward and Margaret Sullivan, has emerged. Emily suspects that the parents have been abusing Lillith for her lack of obedience in life. Emily's suspicion is confirmed when Edward and Margaret are planning to incinerate Lillith by gassing her alive in the oven at home. Emily saves Lillith with the help of Detective Mike Barron. Lillith is originally ordered to be sent to the children's home, but she begs Emily to look after her instead. With the agreement of the board, Emily is assigned to take care of Lillith until a suitable foster family comes along. In the meantime, Edward and Margaret are placed in a mental institution for attempted murder.

Not too long after Lillith moves in, strange things begin to happen around Emily. Two weeks later, another of Emily's cases, a boy named Diego, suddenly murders his parents with a crowbar, and Mike informs Emily that somebody phoned Diego from her house the night before the crime. As she is suspected of involvement in the incident, Lillith undergoes a psychiatric evaluation by Emily's best friend, Douglas J. Ames. During the session, however, Lillith turns the evaluation around, asking Douglas what his fears are and subtly threatening him. That night after receiving a strange phone call, Douglas is panicked by a mass of hornets coming out of his body in hysteria and kills himself in the bathroom.

Emily gradually becomes fearful of Lillith, so she heads to the mental asylum for answers from Edward and Margaret. They tell her that, far from being truly human, Lillith is actually a demon who feeds on emotion, capable of causing deadly hallucinations based on her victims's fears. The desperate attempt to murder her had been an attempt to save themselves and others. Edward tells Emily that the only way to murder Lillith is to get her to sleep. Shortly after Emily leaves the asylum, Margaret hallucinates being on fire, and Edward is stabbed in the eye after attacking a fellow inmate through whom the voice of Lillith spoke. Mike initially thinks Emily should seek psychiatric help, but is later convinced when he receives a strange phone call in his home from Lillith. He arms himself to help Emily. However, he fatally shoots himself in the head with his shotgun, as Lilith makes him imagine he is being attacked by dogs.

After realizing that her closest colleagues have been eliminated, and that the rest of her cases will be next, Emily serves Lillith tea spiked with sedative. While Lillith is asleep, Emily sets fire to her house, hoping to get rid of her. However, Lillith apparently escapes unharmed. A police officer offers to escort Emily and Lillith to a temporary place to sleep. As Emily is following the police cars, she suddenly takes a different route and drives her car at a high speed, hoping to bring fear to Lillith. Instead, Lillith forces Emily to relive her childhood memory of her mother, Mrs. Jenkins, driving fast in a rainstorm, and that a truck overturns in their path. Emily fights through the memory, telling herself that it is not real. The image fades, and Lillith herself is frightened that the illusion failed and Emily no longer fears her.

Emily drives the car off a pier. As the car sinks, Emily struggles to lock a now-demonic Lillith in the trunk. Emily then attempts to swim to the surface. However, Lillith grabs Emily's foot to stop her from swimming away, but luckily, after seconds of struggling, Emily finally breaks free and climbs out of the water as the trapped Lillith screams, sinking deep to the bottom to her death while Emily recovers on the pier.

Alternate endingEdit

On the DVD as a deleted scene in the Special Features section, Emily careens through the harbor gate and drives the car off the pier into the bay just as in the theatrical ending. The car sinks to the bottom and fills with water. Suddenly, a man swims down to the car, opens Lillith's door, and carries her to the surface, leaving Emily behind. Emily tries unsuccessfully to open her door but begins to pass out. Suddenly, the man reappears and frees her, too. As an ambulance carries Emily away, a news broadcast details the event, and Margaret Sullivan can be seen watching it. In the final scenes, Emily can be seen in handcuffs, frantically pleading with her lawyer to tell her where Lillith is and that she needs to talk to the new foster family about her. Meanwhile, Lillith arrives at the family's home.



On October 31, 2006, a fire started on the film's set in Vancouver. None of the cast were on the set at the time and nobody was seriously injured, though the set and studio were destroyed.[3] The film was shot in Vancouver in late 2006 and was released theatrically in the UK, other European, and in Latin American countries on August 13, 2009. The film was initially scheduled for U.S. release in August 2008, but was delayed twice before its final release date on October 1, 2010.


Box officeEdit

Case 39 was released to New Zealand cinemas on August 13, 2009 and in its opening weekend ranked #12, with NZ$35,056.[4] It averaged a low NZ$1,845 at the 19 cinemas it was released. The film opened at a small wide release in Australia, being shown on 85 screens, and ranked #12 in its opening weekend, with a screen average of AU$2,077 and a gross of AU$176,526. Negative local reviews and its poor opening were followed by a 70% second weekend decrease. The film grossed a total of AU$332,956. It had a total of US$14,926,149 from its international run ahead of its U.S. release.[5]

In its debut weekend in the United States, the film opened at #7, with an estimated US$5,350,000 in 2,211 theaters, averaging US$2,420 per cinema.[6]

Critical responseEdit

Case 39 received mostly negative reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 21% rating, based on 75 reviews, with the consensus stating, "Director Christian Alvert has a certain stylish flair, but it's wasted on Case 39's frightless, unoriginal plot."[7] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 25 out of 100, based on 15 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews."[8]

Gareth Jones of Dread Central gave the film 2 out of 5 "knives," saying, "I'm sure it will do decent business among the undemanding weekend-horror crowd and Zellweger fans when it eventually sees the light of day. Nobody else need apply."[9] Margaret Pomeranz of the Australian version of At the Movies gave the film one out of 5 stars, calling it "one of the least scary, dumbest movies I've seen in a long time." Her co-host David Stratton gave it 1½ out of 5, commenting that "once it sort of kicks into the plot – once it really gets down to the nitty gritty, like so many horror films it just becomes really ridiculous and silly."[10]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Fritz, Ben (September 30, 2010). "Movie projector: 'Social Network' looks strong; 'Let Me In' and 'Case 39' will struggle". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Company. Retrieved September 30, 2010.
  2. ^ "Case 39 (2010)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved October 3, 2010.
  3. ^ Robert Matas (2006-11-02). "Special-effects fire destroys movie set". Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved 2008-04-07.
  4. ^ Box Office Mojo - Case 39 New Zealand Box Office
  5. ^ Case 39 (2010) - Box Office Mojo
  6. ^ "'Social Network' No Wallflower in Its Debut". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved October 3, 2010.
  7. ^ "Case 39". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 1, 2018.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Dread Central - Case 39 Review
  10. ^ "At the Movies (Australia): Case 39". Archived from the original on 2016-05-11. Retrieved 2010-02-09.

External linksEdit